Understanding Eating Disorders

“Disordered eating,” is common in our culture. It can range in severity from mild to extreme. At the milder end are irregular eating patterns, such as skipped meals, or yo-yo dieting. But at the extreme end are medically defined eating disorders that can become life-threatening. Eating disorders are hard on both physical and mental health.

Eating disorders are complex conditions that can start at a young age. There are four medically defined types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating and eating disorder-not otherwise-specified (EDNOS).

  • Between 1% and 2% of adolescents and young adults have an eating disorder.
  • Anorexia usually starts in puberty, while bulimia tends to develop a few years later.
  • They often develop gradually and may grow out of cycles of dieting.

Once an eating disorder gets rolling, it can be hard to stop. So pay attention to warning signs. It’s important to get help as early as possible. Over time, a person’s life can become so focused on food-related activities there is little time left for anything else. There’s no single cause of eating disorders, but some people are more likely than others to experience them. Personal risk factors include:

  • feelings of low self-esteem or self-worth
  • feeling a general lack of control
  • a need for perfection
  • difficult family relationships
  • a history of abuse or trauma

Eating disorders are more about issues of control and self-worth than about food. The ability to control food intake and the body itself become tightly connected to feelings of self-worth. Eating disorders usually mask other problems. They may start as a way of coping with personal
issues, but in time they create more problems than they solve. It’s common for persons with eating disorders to have other mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety or substance use.

Treatment will include help from a combination of medical, psychological and nutrition experts, along with help from the family. The basic goals of treatment are to restore health, reach and maintain a healthier weight, normalize eating habits, and feel better mentally and physically.
Eating disorders are dangerous and do not go away by themselves. It often takes time for a person to admit they need help. If you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, get the facts, be patient, and offer support.

Source: CMHA – Ontario